Many people who work in sustainability today don’t have “sustainability” included in their job description.
Brandon Tidwell (MBA ‘13), sustainability manager at Darden Restaurants, Inc., stumbled into the field. Originally a social worker, he became involved with sustainability when his boss noticed he had a recycling bin at his desk and asked Tidwell to spearhead a project.
Today Tidwell deals with large-scale issues in sustainability and corporate responsibility like animal safety, supply chain management and changing food standards for Darden, the Orlando-based restaurant operator with chains like Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster.
Tidwell spoke to UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA students at the 12th annual Careers in Sustainability Forum, which showcases professionals who work at the intersection of business and sustainability, Nov. 1. The Center for Sustainable Enterprise, MBA Career Management Center and the MBA Net Impact Club hosted the forum.
Though Tidwell says sustainable business practices aren’t yet a deciding factor in diners’ choices of restaurants, he sees sustainability as a “lens for innovation.”
For panelist Rawlins Parker (MBA ’12), program manager for supplier diversity at Lenovo, the main focus of her job is recruiting minority businesses as suppliers. In her work for the Chinese personal computer maker, she also deals with corporate responsibility issues like workers’ rights and outsourcing — a business model that is against Lenovo’s policy.
“I realize sustainability is in everything we do as a company,” she said.
Lyris Cullinan (MBA ’12) is marketing development manager for DuPont Tate & Lyle BioProducts, a joint venture to use renewable resources, like corn, to create products for industries that include food and clothing. She deals with such issues as the food vs. fuel debate and the ethics of genetically modified seeds.
“We’re trying to figure out where we have the advantage and reposition ourselves to say ‘we’re sustainable, but that’s not why you should buy us,” she said. Many of the markets DuPont is looking to expand in now are sustainability-focused.
Cullinan came to UNC Kenan-Flagler because she wanted to get involved with sustainability in business. She advised students to keep an open mind when looking at potential employers.
“Sustainability looks different in different industries and companies,” she said.
Sustainable practices must be part of a larger business strategy, the panelists agreed.
“People don’t buy Lenovo because they have a high recycling rate, they buy because the products work well,” Parker said. “Sustainability is part of the equation, but making good products is most important.”